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Milton Keynes to trial driverless pod cars

Business secretary Vince Cable has announced that the government is to invest £1.5 million in a UK driverless car trial.

The project will use driverless “pods” to ferry passengers around designated pathways in Milton Keynes city centre.

According to plans an initial batch of 20 driver-operated pods that will be able to carry two passengers will enter service in 2015. These will be followed in 2017 by 100 fully autonomous pods that will run on pathways alongside pedestrian areas.

The UK government has unveiled plans for a pod car trial

According to a spokesman, the vehicles will be able to travel at up to 12mph and will be armed with sensors that will enable them to detect and respond to obstacles.

The news follows yesterday’s announcement that the new Advanced Propulsion Centre is to invest £75 million in low carbon automotive technologies.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: ‘Driverless cars are another invention that has the potential to generate the kind of high-skilled jobs we want Britain to be famous for,’ said Cable. ‘The car industry has gone from strength to strength… But we must look at the long-term challenges and opportunities to ensure the sector continues to succeed and grow.


Initial collaborators on the project are engineering consultancy firm Arup, Transport Systems Catapult, The Automotive Council, and Cambridge and Oxford Universities. 

Initial illustrations show a two-wheeled vehicle that looks remarkably similar to General Motors’ EN-V concept car but there has been no announcement on whether the system will use new technology or an existing vehicle. Another potential candidate could be the autonomous pod cars developed by Bristol firmUltra Global PRT, which have been in operation at Heathrow Terminal 5 for a number of years.   

Readers' comments (6)

  • On the surface this scheme is a vanity project and does not seem to offer value for money. Software systems for driverless cars already exists, and the pods are unlikely to contribute towards reducing congestion

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  • Driverless cars running on designated tracks are not the big issue. The auto industry is working on autonomous vehicle control systems. Think of the supportive systems a jumbo jet pilot has in the aotopilot. There will be a driver - his is the vehicle pilot. He may not even have a passenger. The realistic first target is to produce a "crash-proof" car. The aoto-driver systems will take most of the driving desisions under the supervision of the drver. Some of the tasks are already dealt with in cars now on sale. The main components are all being developed now and a standard world architecture is under development.

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  • I live in Milton Keynes and can see how this project could be effectively utilized. There are a number of problems that will need to be addressed before implementation which should include:- Security of the designated vehicle movement areas. Also prevention of malicious sabotage to path surfaces with foreign bodies, glass, stones, tree debris etc. As the vehicles will be driver less detection and avoidance of minute obstructions that could damage tyres could be a major problem. Items dropped from above as the paths dip under roadways would be a source of great amusement to the idiots among the population. These points are bound to be addressed but they should not be ignored as any risk of these sorts could stop the project in its tracks.

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  • It's reinventing the wheel. Driver plus 2 passengers powered by electric motor has been perfected. The T.27is the world’s most efficient electric car. Designed by Gordon Murray Design Limited, it also has an incredibly efficient and low energy manufacturing process. The outer skin can be altered to a distinctive Milton Keynes image. Self steering / autopilot could easily be adapted. Foam based puncture proof tyres could help with Trevor Bests rightful concerns. Class leading ride, grip & comfort with low manufacturing cost. The practical operating experience of the guided busway in Cambridge would be a useful “guide”

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  • As we say in our report, the specific technology has not yet been announced but there are a number of possible candidate vehicles around potentially including - as you suggest - Gordon Murray's T27

  • I hope that EMC and Interoperability are taken seriously. MK is electrically noisy. Would Vince Cable resign if someone is killed or seriously injured by one of these, I doubt it.

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  • Really excited to see this project come to fruition. I'm registered as partially sighted and so cannot drive. I have just moved to MK to work as a Graduate Structural Engineer and have found that MK is really designed for people who can drive. The pods would provide a good alternative way to get around the city.

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